A recent survey for Car Dealer magazine by What Car? revealed a fifth of car buyers think online sales will overtake those made in car dealerships by 2025.
There's no doubt that the lockdowns of 2020/21 have accelerated this transition to online car buying. With forecourts closed for much of the time, car buyers had no option.
However, the same research shows there is space for traditional dealerships too - a third of car buyers think online car sales will never catch on.
Whether you're buying new or used, there are an increasing number of options when it comes to "virtual" car shopping.
Citroen, Dacia, Hyundai, Mitsubishi, Peugeot, Polestar, Vauxhall and Volvo are among the car makers that let you buy new vehicles remotely via their websites.
If you’re looking for a second-hand car, fast-growing online dealerships include Cazoo, BuyaCar and cinch. There are also websites/apps that connect buyers directly with dealers (many operating virtually), including Auto Trader, heycar, YesAuto and AA Cars.
Policies vary across companies, but buying a car online has several advantages:
However, there are also disadvantages of buying a car online:
The good news is that you benefit from more legal protection when you buy a car online than if you walk into a showroom and buy the exact same vehicle.
You are covered by the Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013, which means you have the right to cancel from the moment an order is placed until 14 days after taking delivery of the car.
However, if you visit the retailer’s premises at any time during the sales process (eg to test drive the car or sign paperwork), this no longer counts as a distance sale. Therefore, you won’t have a cancellation period and the usual consumer rights apply (see below).
Before opting for “click and collect”, check with the dealership that they still class this as a distance sale.
Whatever happens, you also have some statutory rights under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 – just as you would if “physically” buying a new or used vehicle from a dealer (e.g. if you experience problems with the car after taking delivery).
I'm an experienced journalist, digital editor and copywriter, now specialising in motoring. I’m editor of Automotive Blog and have worked across the media in newspapers, magazines, TV, teletext, radio and online for household names including the BBC, GMTV, ITV and MSN. I’ve produced digital content in the financial sector for Lloyds Bank, Nationwide and the Money Advice Service. I'm married with two children and live near Bath in Somerset.